I admit it. When I first saw the email telling me that our university, like so many other institutions on the eastern seaboard, was closed, I experienced a distinct burst of giddiness. A day “off” is the thought I dared to allow out of my subconscious mind onto the stage of discernable thought. I awoke to little more than thick, cloudy, tannish grey skies and a wet mist that quickly grew into a steady drizzle. I ventured out to our local market — the corner bodega, for you city folk — to pick up some coffee, taking a few snaps along the way but I returned with little more to show for my adventure than a damp sweatshirt and an ample supply of caffeine. I optimistically set out to accomplish a herculean number of tasks. After all, we were “off.”
Seven hours passed by in a swirl of phone meetings, email catch up, and some writing – not the kind I was aiming to do, but of the kind I needed to do… after the tinny sounds of raindrops falling against the air conditioner swelled into a single, agitated noise… I made an empty-the-fridge frittata, use-up-the-fruit crostata, and made decent headway with the consumption of assorted sweets and treats under the convenient guise of preparing for possible power outage by minimizing food waste… all the while, the anxious weight of the word “yet” hung in the air as I, like the rest of the city, awaited the mythic winds that would prove to be even more harrowing than the “Frankenstorm,” as the popular press has taken to calling Hurricane Sandy, of 1938 – the last time a hurricane that even approached the current conditions. From the Slate story:
Without warning, a powerful Category 3 hurricane slams into Long Island and southern New England, causing 600 deaths and devastating coastal cities and towns. Also called the Long Island Express, the Great New England Hurricane of 1938 was the most destructive storm to strike the region in the 20th century.
At present, we are in the thick of Sandy’s turbulent fury. Outside, the wind screams as if in pain, a protestation of a sinful sort. Mine is an interior apartment, my windows have unremarkable views, which today provides an additional layer of protection against the churning squalls. I offer a note of thanks.
It is impossible to do anything but be in this storm. By being, I mean following along on twitter and occasionally on facebook, via text and email to my siblings and spouse, and becoming unavoidably transfixed by links to images and video that are flooding my twitterstream of rising water and submerged NYC iconography, sparking wires and resultant fires, of building facades turning to dust. And this is what the wind map of the United States looks like at present.
Another inappropriate thought: How beautiful… like a painstakingly hand-drawn etching of this world rather than the otherworldly chaotic havoc that it signals.
Whatever sense of wonder I was lost in, I was wrested violently from its comfort by the sounds of sirens, honking cars, metal clanging as if something was tumbling down the length of fire escape, a phone ringing relentlessly next door… Neighbors’ voices and the opening and shutting of doors interrupt the windswept operetta continuing ad nauseam on the other side of surprisingly dense window glass.
Like many of our counterparts, our university is closed again tomorrow, as is the NYC transit system, city public schools, and apparently everything south of 23rd street – which has receded into darkness unwittingly. My giddiness has dissolved into a state of anticipation tinged with irritation, still somewhat laced with wonder but not free from unease that settles in when a situation remains unsettled.
Waiting … for the impending aftermath… for power outage… for the unpredictable…
Metal clanging again, more loudly this time. Wind makes its presence known, lest we attempt to retreat into our dreams to forget whatever nightmare may await us in the light of day. Wind and water, a lesson in humility…
Is it somehow fitting, then, that Neruda found his way into my reading today?
Ode To Enchanted Light
by Pablo Neruda
Under the trees light
has dropped from the top of the sky,
like a green
latticework of branches,
on every leaf,
drifting down like clean
A cicada sends
its sawing song
high into the empty air.
The world is
a glass overflowing